Erik Anderson, president and CEO of Basin Precision Machining LLC, has determined that setups are the root of all evil when it comes to manufacturing productivity. They cause part variations, downtime, and high-percentage scrap rates. And like many other shops, Basin, too, faced the challenge of long and complex job setups—until the Jefferson, WI-based shop fought back with automation.
Basin considers itself a relatively nonconventional shop due to its extreme obsession for quality, lean manufacturing and highly efficient single-piece flow production across its entire shop floor. But nowhere is this unconventionality more apparent than with the company’s use of automation within a high-mix/low-volume production environment as opposed to the typical high-volume scenario.
To achieve its special high-mix/low-volume production automation, Basin relies on manufacturing cells comprised of the latest, most advanced machine tool technology armed with the largest tool storage capacities possible and digital connectivity—a combination that has basically eliminated setup times.
As a precision contract machine shop, Basin services the oil and gas, aerospace, recreational vehicle and hydraulic markets. Its customers include the likes of oil and gas company FHE USA LLC, cartridge valve maker HydraForce Inc. and motorcycle OEM Harley-Davidson Inc.
In some instances, the shop will produce about 250 versions of a part for one customer. The associated job lot sizes can range from five to 500 pieces, which, according to Anderson, equates to about 80 setups per month to change over from one version to the next. These time and labor-intensive setups require skilled individuals who understand 100-plus tool setups, complicated multi-sided fixturing and how to run complex parts.
With one of its largest automated manufacturing cells, Basin can have about 200 part numbers set up at any given time. The cell allows the shop to set jobs up once, leave them in the cell and run each when needed. Housed in a new 22,500 ft2 (2,090 m2) addition and producing mainly hydraulic manifolds, the cell consists of six Mazak HCN-5000 horizontal machining centers within a Mazak Palletech system that features three levels, 120 pallets, and three load stations. For maximum tool capacity, each machining center is paired with a Mazak Tool Hive that holds 348 tools each for a cell total of 2,088 tools.
Large tool capacities, according to Anderson, contribute significantly to setup reductions in that they allow the shop to leave tools set up as cells switch from one part to the next. In most instances, there is enough tooling for a single machine to run a dozen different part numbers out of three sizes of raw stock material.
Last year the shop did about $11 million of hydraulic manifold work on 15 standalone machines operated by 32 people. With the one new Mazak system alone, Basin will now handle roughly $9.5 million of work with only six machines and six people producing 90% of what it did previously.
The HCN-5000s all have Mazak’s Mazatrol SmoothG controls, which are user-friendly and deliver high-speed, high-accuracy machining. Direct-drive rotary tables and two-pallet changers come standard on the machines. This simple and efficient automation feature enhances productivity by allowing the Palletech rail-guided robot to load or unload one pallet while the machine continues to work on a part fixtured on its other pallet.
For further process optimization, each of the cell’s HCN-5000s is equipped with a Mazak SmartBox, a launch platform that provides Basin with an easy and secure entrance into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). With MTConnect technology at its foundation, the open-protocol SmartBox facilitates the connectivity of the shop’s machines and devices while allowing for enhanced monitoring and analytical capabilities.
According to Anderson, Basin installed the SmartBoxes to monitor overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and eventually interface with the shop’s ERP system. Currently the Mazak SmartBoxes transfer tooling data, via RFID chips, from Basin’s tool presetters to the machines. But, he said that the shop will eventually sensor the equipment so it can use the Mazak SmartBoxes for preventive maintenance and monitoring critical systems on the machines.
Another recently added automated manufacturing cell at Basin is centered on a Mazak HCN-8800 horizontal machining center and a 348-tool Tool Hive within a six-pallet Palletech system. The cell produces components mainly for an oil and gas industry system for securing equipment to wellheads, FHE’s RigLock.
In addition to the HCN-8800, Basin also produces components for the RigLock system with a Mazak Integrex i-630V/6 multitasking machine, a five-axis solution with powerful turning and milling spindles designed for heavy-duty machining. The machine processes RigLock bodies that measure 20″ (508 mm) in diameter, weigh 1,200 lb and are made from steel with a hardness of Rc 32. These parts use to take another supplier six machining operations and 55 days of total processing time; Basin now finishes them in just over seven hours with only one machining operation on the Integrex i-630V/6.
For these parts, according to Anderson, the process is much easier if it can be done in one operation. “This lets you wipe out all the variables such as handling, loading, loss of registration and the need for multiple pieces of equipment,” he explained. “If a conventional shop did the same job, they would need two turning machines and a vertical mill with an indexer and have to handle the part four times.”
At Basin, single-piece flow and the Done in One Mazak machine capability means raw material enters the process and exits as finished components. This means zero WIP, far fewer quality problems and faster job turnaround times. All of this has resulted in a sub-50 parts per million (ppm) in defect quality performance for Basin. In fact, the shop has been as low as 19 ppm, and has been that way for the past 10 years.
Anderson said that some of the shop’s other Mazaks, like its Integrex i-630V/6, are not what would be considered traditional automation—no robots load the machine. Instead, the automation is a result of the multitasking machine’s ability to do turning operations as well as full five-axis milling to process parts in single setups.
Additional examples of such built-in automation include four other recently acquired Mazak multitasking machines. These are the shop’s Integrex i-400S, which features a second turning spindle; an Integrex i-200ST, which features a lower turret in addition to its second turning spindle; and two Integrex e-500H-S multitasking machines, each of which features two equally powerful opposed turning spindles with C-axis control. Those machines also have integral motor milling spindles that rotate in the B-axis for simultaneous five-axis and high feed-rate milling operations.
The Integrex e-500H-S makes large parts for the RigLock system. The Integrex i-400S and i-200ST also process RigLock components and blow-out preventer parts that are bar fed into the Integrex i-200ST machine. While these machines work, their operator also has time to run the Integrex i-400S as well.
“Automated machining systems like our Mazaks,” said Anderson, “are the solution to workforce problems like a lack of skilled labor. Our people are managers of automation because it’s tough to find machinists. They are conscientious with a strong sense of ownership to oversee our systems and keep them producing. They aren’t button pushers, they are individuals invested in the process—individual plant managers, in a sense—and are responsible for their workcell’s raw material, the machines in the cell, tooling, quality, how the part gets recorded and how it is packed and presented to the customer.”
Most parts at Basin are made from materials that include 4140, 4340 and some pre-hardened steels in the form of bar stock, forgings, and castings. It also produces some parts from Invar 36, 6061-T6 aluminum and 65-45-12 DuraBar ductile iron. Workpieces can weigh anywhere from two oz to 2,000 lb and require tight tolerances and surface finishes. Positional tolerances range from 0.005″ (0.12 mm) to as tight as 0.001″ (0.0254 mm), and in many cases, the shop must hold diametric tolerances of ±0.00025″. Typical job lot sizes range from continuous production involving hundreds of thousands of parts per year to single jobs producing as few as two parts.
Originally started by Anderson’s parents, the shop has 190 employees, two facilities in Jefferson and Whitewater, WI, and a combined manufacturing space of 85,000 ft2 (7,897 m2). The shop has about 10 customers, and according to Anderson, they aren’t trying to be the job shop for 100 customers because it’s very difficult to provide all of them with adequate service at the same time.
“We strive to develop strong relationships with key customers that want us to produce significant amounts of work,” he said. “In doing so, we gain solid commitments from our customers, and we are willing to make major investments in manufacturing technology to produce their components to the best of our ability with the highest quality and cost-effectiveness. Many shops are unwilling to do that.”
Basin will continue to focus on high-mix/low-volume jobs consisting of complex parts because they are the ones from which most shops shy away. Anderson said that the goal is to get the work and the correct equipment for it, such as the flexible Mazak machines and automation systems the company uses today. This strategy has worked well for him and continues to open new markets for Basin.
“We are looking to the future and are willing to make investments,” said Anderson. “This resonates with potential customers because it is tough for them to source the jobs we go after. These customers want suppliers that make the commitment to get the state-of-the-art technology and everything else necessary for the job.”
Edited by Yearbook Editor Candace Roulo from information supplied by Mazak.